Nets beat Lakers in China but strained relations march on

LeBron James and the Lakers fell to the Nets in a preseason game in Shanghai.

The NBA is finding out freedom of speech has come with a price tag. And it is proving costly in their dealings with China, a massive supplier of league revenue.

The latest example took place Thursday morning, when the Brooklyn Nets and Los Angeles Lakers met in Shanghai for a preseason game. Almost surprisingly, the game went on.

But media coverage did not, as the Chinese government forbid press conferences involving either team or NBA commissioner Adam Silver, who is in China for the exhibitions.

Tensions between the NBA and China started when Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey tweeted support for pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong. Those tensions increased when Silver supported Morey’s American right for freedom of speech, with Silver citing the league’s encouragement of players, coaches and others to speak out on matters outside of basketball.

That did not sit well with the Chinese government or sponsors, and the NBA now finds itself walking a tightrope that involves public relations and financial security both at home and abroad.

One example took place when LeBron James, Anthony Davis and the world-renowned Lakers arrived in Shanghai.

Normally, the Lakers would be greeted by thousands of adoring Chinese fans. But this time, according to the Los Angeles Times, only a dozen or so showed up and even those were shielding their faces.

But the preseason game did go on (the Nets won, 114-111), minus Chinese television coverage or press conferences. So far, Saturday’s game in Shenzen between the teams will also be played.

Again, though, this is all coming at a cost, and for the time being, the only end in sight is if Silver can somehow play diplomat and repair a broken relationship — as Chinese sponsors have completely pulled out of supporting the NBA and the fans may be leaving next.

As for the actual game, Spencer Dinwiddie led the Nets with 20 points and Taurean Prince added 18. Kyrie Irving played just one minute after aggravating a facial fracture suffered before training camp.

James scored 20 points and Davis 16 to lead the Lakers.